Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Nonviolent Resistance to Nazi Germany: What Occurred and What Could Have Occurred

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

Nonviolent Resistance to Nazi Germany: What Occurred and What Could Have Occurred

Article excerpt

This paper attempts to counter the common misconception that nonviolence would not have worked against Nazi Germany. It adds to the literature showing that nonviolence against Nazism did occur, and although it was mostly ad hoc, poorly coordinated and under-resourced, it was widespread, diverse and sometimes remarkably effective. If it had been better coordinated, planned and resourced, such nonviolence could have been formidable. The paper also examines foreign corporations that were economic and military-industrial pillars of Nazism, and suggests that an international campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against those collaborator corporations - as used successfully against the similar pillars of apartheid South Africa - could have been highly effective.

Militarism1 has long been recognised for its social and economic costs (Guerlain 2013), and increasingly for its environmental costs (Thomas 1995; Wareham 2009; Branagan 2013). Nonviolence-the use of peaceful means, rather than violence, to gain political or social objectives - has long been proposed as an alternative mechanism for national defence and regime change. However, the widespread adoption of nonviolence is hampered by a common perception, including by 'world leaders' such as Barak Obama, and many historians, that it would not be effective against ruthless opponents such as Nazi Germany (Stoner 2009). This is despite ample evidence of numerous overthrows of dictatorships and authoritarian regimes (Clark 2009; Schock 2005; Zunes et al. 1999).2

Nazi Germany was undoubtedly one of the most murderous regimes in human history, with its number of victims - approximately 21 million - exceeded only by Mao Zedong's China and Stalin's USSR (Dougherty 2005). Contrary to popular opinion, however, nonviolence against Nazism did occur. Although it was generally ad hoc and unresourced, it was remarkably effective, as discussed in Social Alternatives by Brian Martin (1987, 1990) and Ralph Summy (1987, 1995, 2000), and elsewhere by this author (2013: 44-50) and Ackerman and Duvall (2000: 207-239). This paper builds on those findings in a further effort to show the extent of nonviolence against Nazism, and how effective it can be even against an extremely brutal regime.

Firstly, it acknowledges the complex nature of resistance to Nazism. Next, it argues that the worldview of historians who have examined this period impacts on how they write about it. There then follows an overview of the breadth and diversity of opposition to Nazism, the numerous tactics used, and the impact they had.

Although the clock cannot be turned back, asking what more could have been done against the Nazi regime may be instructive for those wishing to understand how to resist nonviolently current or future dictatorships. The paper therefore also shows that some key economic and military-industrial pillars of Nazism were foreign corporations, and it suggests that another tactic which could have been profitable - as it was against South Africa's brutal apartheid regime - was a campaign of boycotts, divestments and sanctions against those collaborator corporations.

German Resistance

This article summarises some of the (primarily German) opposition to Nazi Germany. Many Germans had a complex and dynamic relationship with Nazism. Some supported aspects of Nazism while expressing dissent or opposing (usually quietly but in some cases openly) other aspects. Some, like the Scholl teenagers of Ulm (see below), were initially enthusiastic but later became vehemently opposed. Although the Nazi regime attempted total state control, this was not achieved (Mallman and Paul 2005), and there was a diversity of opposition ranging from communists to priests to students. Those who resisted included ordinary civilians, unionists, social democrats, military personnel, youth and religious adherents, as well as conservatives and Jews (Stokes 1990; Pauker 1990; Jonca 1990; Stratford 1987: 545). …

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